Category Archives: Book Reviews

Manga Review: Love Me, Love Me Not Vol. 1

Complicated romantic drama forms the basis of many shojo titles, and Io Sakisaka’s Love Me, Love Me Not falls into this category. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Four friends share the springtime of their youth together.

Fast friends Yuna and Akari are complete opposites—Yuna is an idealist, while Akari is a realist. When lady-killer Rio and the oblivious Kazuomi join their ranks, love and friendship become quite complicated!

The Review

According to the Greetings page, the story has two main characters, Yuna and Akari. However, while we do get scenes in Akari’s perspective, the story feels like it belongs to Yuna, which is too bad because she is much less engaging than her costar.

Yuna’s the stereotypical nice, shy high school girl. Unfortunately, she’s so timid she doesn’t make an impression on other people nor does she make an impression as a lead character. Akari is confident and friendly, and she’s had to move often because of family circumstances. The two meet when Yuna helps Akari at a train station, and they become friends when they realize Akari has just moved into Yuna’s apartment building. Like most high school girls, they talk about boys and quickly discover they have different views on romance.

The story has a very slow start. Unfortunately, even once the girls’ relationship gets established, Yuna’s so passive and mopey I’m not inclined to root for her as a character. The plot primarily focuses on Yuna’s and Akari’s differing views on romance and how their love lives play out in real life. Yuna’s knowledge of romance comes primarily from shojo manga, she has an idealistic (fairytale) view of love, and she finds it near impossible to talk to boys. Akari has no trouble talking to boys, has dating experience, and is currently in a long-distance relationship. As such, Akari views Yuna as naïve while Yuna thinks Akari’s feelings of love are shallow. Even so, the girls care for one another and try to help each other when the focus of attraction comes into the picture.

The boys that trigger that are Rio and Kazuomi. Rio is Akari’s stepbrother and Kazuomi is Akari’s longtime neighbor and friend. Predictably, Yuna falls for Rio, and Akari falls for Kazuomi. Watching Akari navigate life is somewhat interesting. She’s very active, going so far as to take a part-time job to fund visits to her faraway boyfriend, and has an awkward blended family situation. Yuna, on the other hand, is so passive and unremarkable she’s boring. She doesn’t have the guts to confess to Rio; instead she just witnesses other girls confessing to Rio over and over. On top of that, Yuna is called a “nice” girl, but all it takes is one unfounded rumor for Yuna to essentially brand Akari a slut. While Yuna does redeem herself, it’s not enough for me to sympathize with her as a character, and I’m not especially interested in what happens to her next.

Extras include Greetings and Afterword.

In Summary

Two girls with different views on love befriend each other just before they enter high school. While the ups and downs of teen romance can fuel scintillating drama, Love Me, Love Me Not is flat as a can of stale soda due to the lack of initiative of its overly quiet and self-conscious main character Yuna. And even though the mangaka appears to be setting up the two heroines for a love square with the two boys closest to them, the story thus far hasn’t sufficiently endeared the characters that I care who ends up with whom.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 13

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 13. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The ongoing troubles at Café Mitter Meyer leave Licht feeling helpless as he witnesses firsthand the hate directed at his master for his Kvel ancestry. Infuriated by the kingdom’s ugly dark side, Licht realizes he has an opportunity many do not: the power to enact change from the highest level of government, the throne itself! With his return, all four brothers are reunited in the palace. They have all been transformed by their experiences apart, and each is more determined than ever to rule for the betterment of Granzreich!

The Review

The first half of Volume 13 is Licht centric. He’s been absent from recent chapters so Akai-sensei’s making it up with an extended arc where he’s the star and the guards Ludwig and Maximillian form the supporting cast. Like most Licht stories, it centers around the café, and like his brothers, Licht hits upon a turning point during their time apart.

A new element introduced at the close of Volume 12 is the existence of ethnic minorities within the kingdom. Volume 13 fleshes out that dynamic further. Kvels appeared to be modeled after the Jewish people, and considering how this world resembles 19th-century Europe, the picture of discrimination it presents isn’t difficult to grasp. It is, however, a shock for the privileged and mostly sheltered Licht.

Unlike the libel incident against Kai, the vandalism against the café is left unresolved. On one hand, it’s frustrating not to reach a resolution. On the other hand, it is a realistic outcome and one that wakes Licht up to the inequity that exists in his country. Thus the youngest prince discovers motivation to embrace the role he was born to, and Akai-sensei leaves the door open for this vandalism incident to reemerge at a later time.

At this point, Heine’s not only won the respect of his four pupils, but he’s leveled them up as candidates for the throne. Thus, the focus turns to the throne’s heir apparent, Eins, who poses with the Royal Tutor on this volume’s cover.

While the younger princes are technically competing with their eldest brother, most of the conflict has arisen between Heine and Count Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s position as Eins’ head steward would lead one to believe his actions are driven out of a desire for personal gain, but an unusually frank conversation between Heine and Rosenberg and a walk down memory lane with Kai reveal that the relationship between the count and Eins is deeper and more complicated. And with Eins acting strangely following his much-anticipated betrothal to a neighboring princess, Akai-sensei’s got me insanely curious as to what his fatal flaw might be.

Extras include bonus manga and illustrations and the first page printed in color.

In Summary

The troubles at Café Mitter Meyer take on an ugly tone. Although Licht is determined to stop the culprit, he eventually realizes that the problem is beyond what an ordinary café worker can handle. Thus, he embraces his princehood and returns to the palace with a new purpose. With that, all four brothers are reunited in time to receive news of their eldest brother’s engagement. Akai-sensei finally reveals more information about Eins and Rosenberg, but those details serve to raise more questions, leaving me eagerly anticipating the next volume.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Light Novel Review: Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf Vol. 4

Holo and Lawrence of the  Spice and Wolf light novel series have reached their happy ending, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, creator Hasekura has a spinoff series: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 4. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Rausbourne, Winfiel Kingdom’s second-largest city, is on the verge of boiling over. Col and Myuri have come to this bustling metropolis at Heir Hyland’s request-but as soon as they land, they find themselves caught between heavily armed tax collectors and mercenaries hired by the local merchants association. The stakes are high when it becomes clear that Rausbourne’s troubles are simply one part of the wider conflict between the Kingdom and the Church, which has actually worsened due to Col’s deeds as the Twilight Cardinal.

If nothing changes, it’ll be only a matter of time before fighting breaks out. Right as things start to look their bleakest, Lawrence’s old archrival Eve Bolan offers a convenient lifeline. Will the fearless miser turn out to be friend or foe? Either way, Col has no choice but to dive into a three-pronged standoff between the Church, the Kingdom, and the merchants!

The Review

After their detour in Desarev, Col and Myuri finally arrive in Rausbourne, where Col’s supposed to report to the noblewoman Hyland. Unfortunately, their boat hasn’t even docked in the city port when Col’s taken into custody by the Rausbourne Tax Collector Association, an incident which immediately triggers a confrontation with the local traders’ association.

Col’s activities in the North haven’t gone unnoticed, and the deeds of the Twilight Cardinal have emboldened the Rausbourne tax collectors to get belligerent with the local religious authorities. On the surface, it looks like another Kingdom backed foray against the corrupt Church. However, the tax collectors are backed by Heir Klevend, a royal upstart out to usurp the throne. Additionally, the clergy are holed up in the cathedral, unwilling to engage anyone, but they don’t have to fight because merchants and their mercenaries are facing the tax collectors for them.

This is a situation with multiple actors, not all of them obvious, and their motivations aren’t what you’d immediately assume. The bulk of the story is Col and Myuri getting to the heart of the conflict and discovering more layers than they imagined. While the complexity makes it interesting, it’s not a light read. Having to keep track of how everyone is connected and why was a real mental workout.

While the original Spice and Wolf arc was sparing with its nonhuman characters, Col and Myuri seem to encounter a new nonhuman with each leg of their journey, and here it’s Sharon, the head of the Tax Collector Association. Heir Hyland, whom we haven’t seen since the early part of Volume 2, returns to the story, and we get a real blast from the past with the crafty merchant Eve arriving in Rausbourne. It’s because of the unique connections Col and Myuri have with these individuals that Col’s able to get a grasp on the situation, but watching the different personalities interact is pretty fun, too. Col may be a mild-mannered guy, but he attracts strong females. Despite his intentions of celibacy, one scene in particular with Myuri, Eve, and Hyland seems awfully like a harem situation.

Hasekura-sensei does a good job interweaving Winfiel politics, economic opportunity, and a defensive religious organization into the plot. There is an aspect I found troubling though. Along with the Church’s financial corruption, this volume adds the sin of sexual impurity. Basically, most priests had affairs, so much so these illicit relationships were an open secret. To make it worse, when they abandoned their lovers and children to rise in the church ranks, the Church deliberately and knowingly altered records to erase any inconvenient relationships.

Despite his desire to reform the Church, when Col meets one such priest, his response is less indignation and more along the lines of, “Well, he had his reasons.” Weirder is that another pastor, who himself is one of these illegitimate children, is in love with a woman, and the solution is to settle the pair together in a monastery dedicated to raising orphans rather than having the pastor find work that doesn’t require celibacy. Given that no one seems capable of following the celibacy rule, it seems odd Col never questions its necessity. At any rate, if the Church gets any more rotten than this, Myuri may be right that it’s better to destroy and build something new rather than to clean house.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, world map, eight black-and-while illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Our travelers arrive in Rausbourne to find it teetering on the brink of war. The Twilight Cardinal’s actions have spurred people to openly challenge the Church, but an armed conflict might just bring the Winfiel Kingdom to ruin. Col is confronted with the fact that his actions have worldwide consequences, and this volume is less adventuring and more pondering how to use his far-flung influence.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Novel Review: Nameless Queen

Despite the declining number monarchies, tales of lost or hidden royals continue to fascinate people across cultures. Now Rebecca McLaughlin presents another story about a blue blood among the masses with her YA fantasy Nameless Queen. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Everyone expected the king’s daughter would inherit the throne. No one expected me.

It shouldn’t be possible. I’m Nameless, a class of citizens so disrespected, we don’t even get names. Dozens of us have been going missing for months and no one seems to care.

But there’s no denying the tattoo emblazoned on my arm. I am queen. In a palace where the corridors are more dangerous than the streets, though, how could I possibly rule? And what will become of the Nameless if I don’t?

The Review

A quote on the dust jacket touts Nameless Queen as possessing “epic world-building,” but for me, the world-building was so shaky it kept jolting me out of the story. The setting is the city of Seriden. It’s preindustrial (they’ve got muskets but no gas/electric power), ruled by a sovereign, and has a population divided into three classes. Those classes are Royals (nobility), Legals (common citizens), and Nameless.

The Nameless, as you might guess, are the city’s oppressed inhabitants. They’ve got no legal status or rights, can’t buy property, and can’t hold jobs. As result, the vast majority live on the streets and survive by stealing and other illegal activities. However, it’s really unclear why the Nameless are stuck in Seriden. They’re not like Russian serfs, who are bound to provide slave labor for taskmasters. In fact, the Seriden government seems as if it would be thrilled if all the Nameless left town. And it’s not like the environment outside the city is some inhospitable wasteland. From what I can tell, nothing is keeping the Nameless from leaving and creating their own settlement elsewhere, yet they remain in the city where they receive no benefits and endure unjust beatings and hangings.

The other problematic aspect of this social structure is that the only thing differentiating the three classes is their clothes. Not something permanent or obvious like a brand or skin color, just clothes. And the clothes aren’t uniforms but vague ranges of color. Which means it’s easy to impersonate a different class by snitching the right outfits. There’s only one surefire way to tell if someone’s Nameless, and that’s through the magic of the sovereign.

 Or rather, it’s through the ineffectiveness of the sovereign’s magic.

Magic exists in Seriden, but its use is limited to the sovereign, whose powers are limited to what are essentially heightened ESPer powers–reading memories, manipulating thoughts, causing hallucinations. And those powers hold sway over Royals and Legals, but they have no effect on Nameless.

That inability to affect/manipulate the Nameless is the sole reason the group is discriminated against in the first place. But despite the emphasis on magic and how important it seems to the characters, it’s not really that critical to the city’s day-to-day functions. The sovereign doesn’t greet subjects with a daily hallucination. And even though the sovereign can tell at a glance if someone is Nameless, rank and file guards don’t have the same ability, and they are the ones maintaining city order.

Anyway, this is the world of our main character Coin. She’s a seventeen-year-old female Artful Dodger. She’s Nameless, homeless, self-reliant, and she gets the surprise of her life when, shortly after the king’s death, a magical tattoo appears on her shoulder, marking her as the heir to Seriden’s throne. Outrage ensues, and as Coin contends with death threats and endures the skepticism of the Royal Court, the plight of the Nameless hits her head on.

As far as characters go, Coin has an engaging voice, and she’s colorful and clever. The problem is she’s too clever for belief. She’s had to hone pickpocketing skills to survive, but apparently she’s so good she snitches several items despite being under guard custody AND having her hands shackled. The one time her dessert is poisoned, she instantly recognizes it as suspicious and even identifies the poison. She can knock the wind out of a professionally trained guard, and when she gets tossed into the palace dungeon, she escapes within five minutes. All this she does WITHOUT magic. So when she receives the sovereign’s magic powers on top of her own talents, it’s difficult to reconcile her superhuman abilities with the powerless mindset she carries.

Another thing difficult to reconcile is Coin’s I’m-all-alone mindset. From the start, she’s paired with Hat, a younger pickpocket with whom she’s worked for years. When Hat goes missing, Coin passes up a chance at safety to find her. When Hat ends up at the gallows, Coin risks her own neck to save her. Despite these actions, Coin is reluctant to call Hat her friend, even though mutual affection abounds between the two. Part of Coin’s character arc is a journey from lone wolf to accepting the love and support of others, but her excessively selfless actions on behalf of Hat makes that aspect of the narrative seem forced. Which is too bad because a number of scenes could have been truly touching had they been framed a more plausible context.

In Summary

Nameless Queen has great voice and intriguing characters. Unfortunately, problematic elements govern the setting, and the plot twists only make the events of the story less believable. All the fuss about the unsuitability of the main character doesn’t match the stakes, and the convoluted situation gets resolved much too easily at the end.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: The Way of the House Husband Vol. #2

As a manga trope, yakuza tend to be terrifying thugs or comical characters. Tatsu of The Way of the Husband definitely falls in the funny category. Read on for my review of Volume 2. (For other reviews of this series, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The legendary yakuza “the Immortal Dragon” has washed his hands of the gangster life for something far more dangerous—becoming a househusband! Cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking… These days he’s doing everything he can to succeed as man of the house, if it doesn’t kill him first! The cozy yakuza comedy continues!

The Review

The yakuza gag manga continues with nine more vignettes of the Immortal Dragon’s house husband life. As with Volume 1, each chapter is its own standalone comedy routine. No extended arcs are introduced, but the young thug Masa, Tatsu’s Women’s Association friends, and the two cops from Chapter 1 return as supporting cast. There’s still no information about Tatsu’s house husband origin story, and the focus remains on Tatsu’s double entendre and the humorous contrast between his facial and verbal expressions against his domestic settings.

To double down on this gangster in suburbia dynamic, Oono-sensei adds a couple more yakuza gone domestic. Most thugs that Tatsu’s encountered so far are representatives of the Underworld he left. However, Chapter 15 introduces Torajiro, a former rival who now flips crepes, and in Chapter 16, Tatsu’s housewife volleyball team plays against the Bears, which is led by a tough whose sunglasses and animal-themed warm-ups are a good match for Tatsu’s get up.

As for the backstory of Tatsu’s marriage, what brought the couple together remains a mystery. However, in Chapter 18, we do get a glimpse of them through the eyes of Miku’s father. As you might guess, Tatsu and his housewife mother-in-law are like peas in a pod. However, there’s a ton of one-sided awkwardness between him and his father-in-law, and the comedy stems from Miku’s dad trying to find common ground with his utterly unconventional son-in-law.

Extras include three bonus manga and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

If you liked the episodic nature of Volume 1, you’ll enjoy more of the same in Volume 2 as Tatsu battles laundry stains and joins housewife fitness activities. He continues to have brushes with the Underworld, but surprisingly, certain yakuza have embraced aspects of Tatsu’s new world, which turns a mundane visit to the crêpe stand into an over-the-top battle for Instagram likes.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Promised Neverland Vol. #13

The Promised Neverland anime was a surprise favorite of mine for 2019. Its blend of mystery, suspense, and heart grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. For English-speaking fans who can’t wait to see what happens to Emma and their friends, they can read ahead in Viz’s translation of the manga. Read on for my review of Volume 13. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Emma, Ray and their large new family find themselves up against a new enemy, fellow humans. Armed intruders have ambushed the shelter and driven the children back out into the dangerous wilderness. Yugo and Lucas have stepped up to fight, but will it be enough?

The Review

The previous volume had a few events happening over a long period of time. This volume has a ton of stuff happening over just a few days. It begins with the conclusion of the shelter invasion. It’s edge of your seat action as Yugo and Lucas launch their counterattack, and interspersed amid the gunfire are glimpses of their Glory Bell childhood. Then when the battle reaches its explosive conclusion, we get a lengthy flashback and Yugo’s reflections on his life. Especially when Yugo was first introduced, he was a difficult character to figure out, but Chapter 109 lays bare his candid thoughts. Is it heartrending? Yes. Did I cry? Oh yes.

The narrative then shifts to the kids who have gone into hiding. Bereft of the adults’ protection and stripped of their home, their predicament seems overwhelming until Oliver reveals the message that came through the shelter phone right before the attack. Astoundingly it’s from William Minerva – or at least someone claiming to be him. The message gives them new hope and a new destination to journey toward.

Unfortunately, they haven’t even a chance to act on this new information when Andrew, the head of the raid, pounces on them. Considering he got hit by a blast underground, his survival challenges the limits of plausibility. At any rate, the scene serves the purpose of forcing the kids through yet another nightmarish struggle (and Andrew does look ghoulish) before they escape the area for good.

The story then introduces several new characters. As it turns out, the Minerva faction is alive and active. In fact, they’ve been extremely active during the months Emma and company were scouting out the Seven Walls. Whereas before it seemed the escapees were striving for a new promise on their own, now it looks like they’re part of a larger movement. The fact that two of the new characters bear tattoos of the facility Norman got moved to makes me hopeful that he’ll be reunited with Ray and Emma soon.

Extras include side scenes and the creators’ notes.

In Summary

Whereas Volume 12 was slower paced, Volume 13 is never a dull moment. In addition to an emotional roller coaster that goes from heart-stopping to heart-wrenching and back again, the plot thickens with a new message from William Minerva. The kids aren’t the only ones out to change the world, and I look forward to seeing the repercussions of the Minerva faction’s drastic actions.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. 8

The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review of Volume 8. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Alone for the first time since she met the beast king, Leo, Sariphi has had nothing but trouble on her journey to the dessert city of Maasya. Matters get worse upon arrival as her new captain, Lanteveldt, is arrested on suspicion of attacking the local lord. But Sariphi’s belief in him is unshaken, gaining her a true knight in shining armor. Now that Sariphi has a trusted guard by her side and the confidence to stand on her own, does Leo still have a place in her heart?

The Review

The Maasya arc continues with the new captain of the Queen’s Guard getting blamed for the attack on Lord Braun. Predictably, everyone assumes Lante is the perpetrator, and he has no witnesses to account for his whereabouts at the time of the incident. Equally unsurprising is Sari’s conviction of Lante’s innocence. Sari is then saddled with the task of catching the actual culprit while Lante gets tossed into a cell.

I thought the main focus would go towards Sari’s investigation, which is under a time crunch, but we hardly see any of it. Rather, the narrative shifts to a lengthy flashback about Lante’s wretched past. While it does explain why he behaves as he does, it is yet another tale of a horrible childhood. It seems like the entire cast grew up under terrible parents or traumatic circumstances, and it is getting a little old.

At any rate, Sari (once again) succeeds in her endeavors and wins Lante’s loyalty and trust. The speedy capture of the actual attacker is a bit too convenient, but the one interesting part of the investigation is a reference to Sari’s ability to see colors that beastfolk can’t. That mention of beast colorblindness is a nice change of pace from the usual prattle about humankind’s inferiority to beastkind.

Sari then returns to the palace in time to receive a guest. I hadn’t expected Tetra to return to the story so quickly, but the tsundere princess is back–this time to meddle in Sari’s relationship with Leo. Given that Amit and Sari are so shy around their respective love interests, it’s jarring to have the child catgirl exhorting Sari to be bolder in approaching Leo in the bedchamber. While Tetra doesn’t change the Sari/Leo dynamic much, she does allow glimpses of plot developments to come.

The volume concludes with a two-chapter arc about Ilya. I hadn’t expected him to return to the story at all. He remains in the human realm, but his encounters with beastkind continue as he journeys as a vagabond beast hunter. While Ilya’s personality is prickly as ever, Sari’s influence has affected the way he views beastkind, and a chance meeting with a very small, very trusting beast demonstrates those changes.

Extras include embedded author’s notes and the bonus manga, “The Beast Lad and the Regular Boy.”

In Summary

Lante was marked for trouble from the start, and of course Sari gets him out of it. Unfortunately, the process by which she saves him isn’t that engaging, and mostly we get Lante’s tale of childhood woe while he is stuck in prison. While this arc is in keeping with overarching story of Sari steadily changing beastkind opinions about her, the plot is extremely predictable, and Lante’s wretched past is merely another addition to a cast full of terrible childhoods.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Reprise of the Spear Hero Vol. #01

Originally published as a web novel,  The Rising of the Shield Hero has spawned a light novel, anime, and manga. And a sure sign of its continuing success is the fact that it’s generated a spin off manga: The Reprise of the Spear Hero! Read on for my review of Volume 1. (For related titles, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Summoned to another world to serve as the Spear Hero, Motoyasu Kitamura is a pitiful young man who eventually finds himself only able to love filolials. But after being fatally injured in battle, Motoyasu wakes up yet again in the exact circumstances of when he was first summoned. It turns out that his spear possesses an ability known as Time Reversal! With his stats unaffected by the reset, Motoyasu decides to fight once more. His motivation: to once again see the smile of Filo, the filolial that he loves more than any other! Could this be considered the start of a new game in god mode?! The long-awaited otherworldly redemption fantasy begins!

The Review

The Reprise of the Spear Hero is a spin off of the The Rising of the Shield Hero. If you are not familiar with The Rising of the Shield Hero light novel, anime, or manga, you should stop here and check out Shield Hero first. However, as long as you’ve been exposed to one version of the Shield Hero and don’t mind possible spoilers, The Rising of the Shield Hero can be a humorous take on the biggest idiot of the cast.

As the title suggests, the spinoff’s main character is the Spear Hero Motoyasu Kitamura, and it begins with Motoyasu dying in the story’s original arc. There aren’t details on what killed him, but that’s okay because they’re not important. What is important is that upon dying, he finds himself in the magic circle that first summoned the Four Heroes to Melromarc. In other words, his life has been restarted. However, while the other three heroes are as they were when they initially arrived, Motoyasu retains the stats he attained prior to dying as well as certain memories of his previous life. Those memories include the truth about the scheme to frame Naofumi, and he seizes the restart as the chance to correct the mistakes of his previous life.

Thus, Reprise winds up as an alternate version of The Rising of the Shield Hero. While Naofumi figures largely in the story, Motoyasu is the main character. In addition, whereas Motoyasu originally played the role of easily manipulated fool and womanizer, he is a reformed man, eager to prevent the injustices once inflicted upon Naofumi. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his obsession for Naofumi’s filolial companion Filo. If anything, it has gotten worse. Due to the reset, Filo hasn’t been born yet, but Motoyasu is ever purchasing filolial eggs in hopes of becoming her new master.

As for Naofumi, because Motoyasu immediately thwarts the plot to frame him for rape, he’s a much kinder person than the original Shield Hero. He is initially put off by Motoyasu’s aggressive familiarity toward him (Motoyasu calls him “Father”), but Motoyasu’s actions quickly win Naofumi’s trust. Unfortunately, even though the king’s initial ploy to defame the Shield Hero gets thwarted, he retaliates with more aggressive plots to eliminate both Motoyasu and Naofumi. Thus, the focus of this series is less on the waves attacking the world and more on Motoyasu determining the best means of protecting Naofumi while he’s at a vulnerable Level 1 state.

Due to Motoyasu’s modified actions, Naofumi doesn’t get to encounter the slave trader who sold him Filo and Raphtalia, and Motoyasu outright rejects the party members the king selected for him. However, the two heroes don’t journey alone. An unexpected detour through the castle dungeon brings the knight Éclair Seaetto into their company. The noble-minded swordswoman brings additional offensive power to their party along with some badly needed common sense to offset Motoyasu’s excessive enthusiasm.

For those familiar with the light novel, the manga version contains fewer details, but it is much easier to follow. The drawings of the Minute Hand of the Dragon and the trap that sends Motoyasu to the dungeon are much easier to understand than the corresponding novel scenes. The manga also makes clear what it means for Motoyasu to see women as pigs.

In between the volume’s four chapters are summaries of events and character relationships from the original series as well as character profiles, and at the end is a short story from the perspective of one of Motoyasu’s angel filolials. It appears that these pages were originally designed in color, but because they were printed in black and white, some of the text is difficult to read. In addition, there is an inconsistency regarding Malty’s name of shame. On some pages, it is “Witch,” but on others it is “Bitch.”

In Summary

Motoyasu gets a game reset as the Spear Hero. Rather than pursuing glory and girls, he’s out to atone for his past transgressions by protecting Naofumi while exuding his love for all things filolial. If you’re in the mood for a comic spinoff of The Rising of the Shield Hero and don’t mind Motoyasu as the star, give The Reprise of the Spear Hero a try.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Children’s Book Review: Real Pigeons Fight Crime Vol. 1

It used to be that comics and children’s books had distinctly different styles. Nowadays though, many children’s books have a comic book flavor, and Real Pigeons Fight Crime is one of them. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

What do REAL PIGEONS do? They fight crime, of course! Wait, what? You didn’t know your town is protected by a secret squad of crime-fighting feathered friends? Well, you are about to get schooled. REAL PIGEONS solve mysteries! REAL PIGEONS fight bad guys! And REAL PIGEONS won’t stop until your neighborhood is safe and the questions are all answered: Like, why have all the breadcrumbs disappeared? And which food truck smells the best?

The Review

This book is kind of an advanced picture book. It’s divided into chapters but contains more illustrations than a chapter book and relies heavily on those illustrations to tell the story. Also, the stories are actually short. The book is 200 pages, but it’s actually a collection of three separate stories, each of which is comprised of four short chapters. Essentially, it’s three books within one cover.

As to the plot, it’s about a flock of crime-fighting pigeons. Rock is a farm pigeon who loves dressing up as different animals and plants. His disguises are so good that he catches the attention of Grandpouter, an old pigeon putting together a squad to investigate the strange happenings at a city park. Thus Rock joins him and the pigeons Homey, Frillback, and Tumbler to investigate the great breadcrumb mystery.

This is a good series for reluctant readers. In addition to being illustration-heavy, the book incorporates a range of humor, from silly visuals to one-liners to the quirky personalities of the characters. It also has a goofy art style. The drawings, which are printed in grayscale, have a pencil sketch look, and backgrounds often look like chicken scratches. But even though the illustrations aren’t the most refined, they contain lots of comic details that convey and enhance the narrative. Also, a broad swath of diversity is represented by the humans in the background. As for the narrative, it’s a humorous kid version of a cop/crime-fighting mystery series. Every pigeon contributes a special talent to the squad, and each story concerns a different case they must solve. Every episode also closes with a clever teaser about the squad’s next mystery.

A crime squad needs bad guys to chase, and the villains (a greedy crow and narcissistic bat) stir things up in a way that causes trouble for our heroes but leaves the door open for plenty of jokes. (The worst thing they do is plant a stink bomb at a food truck fair). With a story like this, there are instances where you have to suspend belief, and certain places more than most. (Rock’s rear passing as a baby’s face was a real stretch.) However, the point of this series is fun entertainment, and the book does it in an engaging, age-appropriate way.

In summary

If you’ve got a reluctant reader or a kid transitioning out of picture books, take a look at Real Pigeons Fight Crime. It has appeal for boys and girls, the intrigue of a detective series, and a lively, motley cast. The artwork is on the rough side, but it pairs well with the text to deliver a broad spectrum of humor.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Novel Review: American Royals

Despite the fact that the United States began by rebelling against a monarchy, many Americans retain a romantic view of royalty. That’s the target audience of  American Royals. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

What if America had a royal family? If you can’t get enough of Harry and Meghan or Kate and William, meet American princesses Beatrice and Samantha. Crazy Rich Asians meets The Crown. Perfect for fans of Red, White, and Royal Blue and The Royal We!

The Review

The premise of American Royals immediately brought to mind the Korean manhwa and drama Goong (Princess Hours). Both reimagine modern democratic countries as modern monarchies to form the backdrop of romances involving young royals. Unfortunately, while Goong was captivating, American Royals came across as implausible and tiresome.

The implausibility sprang from the novel’s problematic world building. Whereas Korea has a legacy of kings and nobility for Goong to draw from, America doesn’t have one. The origin story provided is that George Washington was asked to become king when America won the Revolutionary War, and after he accepted the crown, he awarded titles and dukedoms to those who’d aided the Revolution. That tradition of ennobling worthy citizens persists to the novel’s present-day, and the nobility includes individuals from formerly oppressed groups (i.e., Native Americans and blacks–the monarchy supposedly abolished slavery two generations after the Revolution).

However, when a royal falls for a commoner, it triggers an uproar about impropriety that doesn’t make much sense when nobility is only a royal decree away. Not to mention, the nobility doesn’t serve any special function other than attending fancy state events. They’re not charged with military obligations to the country, and they can go bankrupt like anyone else. (Supposedly, one of the original noble families is on the brink of losing all their assets.)

Another thing that doesn’t ring true is how content and peaceful American society is. Everyone adores the royal family and is perfectly happy to remain under their rule, no matter their background. Yet toward the end of the book, the two Latina characters make references to the fact that people hate them because they’re Latina. This indicates the existence of racial prejudice, but nowhere else does this portrayal of America show any racial tension. Similarly, the narrative mentions at least three openly gay couples in the nobility that hobnob with the royal family, but toward the end, a character complains how she was discriminated against because she’s gay. The novel wants to present the monarchy as high-minded and egalitarian and at the same time show minorities fighting the injustices of the system, and it doesn’t work.

 Unfortunately, this novel winds up with the books to attempting for the diverse voices stamp of approval and falling short. Despite the fact that one black and two Native American men made the shortlist for the Crown Princess’s hand, all the main and secondary male characters are white. The Washingtons have supposedly intermarried with foreign royals, but all the ones we are aware of came from European countries. Himari Mariko, the one Asian character, is literally in a coma the entire story, and her surname isn’t even a real Japanese surname. (Mariko is a Japanese given name for females.)

Nina is the one token Latinx in the main cast, and I’ve got issues with her for different reasons. The narrative describes her parents as “one of Washington’s power couples:” one heads the Treasury, the other founded a successful e-commerce business. If that doesn’t scream privilege, the fact that she’s hung out at the palace and vacationed with the royal kids since the age of six ought to. Yet despite the fact that she’s attended state events with the princesses and prince and her parents have wealth and power, she’s portrayed as the down to earth commoner, who is at a loss at formal events. She even has a college scholarship tied to an on-campus job, which in this world are generally granted to students with financial hardship. If a so-called Washington power couple can’t swing college tuition for their kid, the rest of the country must be in really bad financial shape.

As for the tiresome aspect of the novel, it stems from the fact that all four of the main female characters are varying degrees of vacuous. Nina is supposedly smart, but she makes out with Prince Jefferson while he is still officially in a relationship with another girl, and afterward, he doesn’t call, text, or otherwise contact Nina for six months. But despite that dismal display of character, Nina decides he’s good boyfriend material. Princess Beatrice has supposedly known from infancy that she is expected to take on the responsibilities of the Crown, and monarchies, as a rule, deem continuing the bloodline a major part of it. However, when her parents bring up the subject shortly after she graduates from college, she acts like it’s never even occurred to her she might have to marry a guy she doesn’t love for the good of the country. Her sister Samantha is worse. She’s presented as the family free spirit, but her behavior comes off as self-absorbed and reckless. She’s supposedly extremely well versed in history, but despite the dozens of examples of political and arranged royal marriages, it never crosses her mind that politics might play even a tiny factor in Beatrice’s selection of consort. As for Daphne, she’s a stereotypical conniving gold-digger, albeit one from the nobility.

The narrative jumps from one woman’s perspective to the next, and the overall result is four uninspired romances woven together. The premise of an American monarchy has a lot of potential, but the novel focuses so much on the women’s fraught love lives that we never really see how this government affected the trajectory of American society and history. We never get a male perspective (it would’ve been nice to get Prince Jefferson’s view on events), and we never get any specifics on the concerns and challenges of the country. The narrative tells us over and over that the king and Beatrice work ceaselessly for the good of the country, but we don’t know if they’re dealing with an oil shortage, the threat of war, trade imbalances, environmental issues, or if they’re preoccupied with keeping the upper crust happy so they can retain their status.

By the way, this book is categorized in the YA section at my local library, but it’s probably more of a New Adult title. With the exception of Daphne, all the characters are out of high school, and Beatrice and her love interest are in their twenties. There’s lots of drinking, and a couple of characters have sex although those scenes aren’t overly graphic.

In Summary

A romance that reimagines a modern democratic nation as a modern monarchy isn’t a new idea, and unfortunately for American Royals, the story it weaves into that setting is also uninspired. The romantic moments between the main characters and their love interests are contrived (especially Beatrice’s getting snowed in at a cabin), and I can’t get myself to care about their love lives. It would’ve been nice to see how a monarchy might have redirected the development of the country, but in the story, it’s simply a device so that Americans can have their own prince and princesses to swoon over.

First published at The Fandom Post.